I was raised–and still live–in a part of the world where things like cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and pickup trucks are commonplace. Of course, not everyone here has or uses these things every day, but even for those who don’t, they would probably see all three on a daily basis. Naturally, I grew up thinking the hats, boots, and trucks were normal everywhere–even if they were used less often in other places.
That was my assumption until I went to college in another state. As far as I can remember, there were a few others on campus who had trucks, but if my hat and boots had feelings, they would’ve told me it was as if they’d been sent into exile. My basketball coach was from New Jersey, and I can still hear him asking me, “People really wear that stuff down there?”
After living other places for a little more than a decade, I have been very glad to be back in the land of the hats, boots, and trucks. Recently, though, I’ve been delighted to find myself going to school once again with others who aren’t familiar with these Texas customs. I am studying spiritual direction with a group of classmates from all over–not just the country, but the world. In the course of the typical “What’s something unusual about you?” personal introductions with my classmates, I mentioned that I’ll likely be the only one in the group who wears cowboy boots on a daily basis.
I like having that fact about myself in my pocket in those situations so that I don’t have to think any harder about what to say, but I’m realizing that the farther someone’s geography or culture are from my own, the more likely it is that they would form inaccurate ideas about me from my attachment of the word “cowboy” to my boots. So, I realized the need to explain something that everyone desperately needs to know: there are different kinds of cowboys.
My ancestors were cowboys, though I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t come close to passing any version of even the lowest-standard cowboy test. Yet I do come from a line of them, I take care of the ranch they handed down to me, and I have friends who could pass any level of such tests with flying colors, so I feel sufficiently qualified to say what I’m about to say about different kinds of cowboys.
Some kinds of cowboys can wear the right stuff (many times being very fussy and particular about doing so), yet as gets proudly represented in the words of too many country songs, often lead lives that leave a trail of destruction behind them. They might live for beer as much as for anything else and their lives are loud, lonely, and leave a lot to be desired. Willie Nelson sang about cowboys like this. My heroes have always been cowboys, too, but of a very different kind.
For example, in 1940 Will F. Evans published Border Skylines to tell the stories of some of the ranching families who came together each year for Bloys Campmeeting. This is what is written about my great-grandfather, Buddy Hutchison:
Those are the kinds of cowboys I grew up with, and who have been my heroes throughout my life–they live simply, love nature, and view being dishonest as more costly than going broke (read about what my dad did with a sack of feed). It’s as if they imbibed Jesus’ approach from the Sermon on the Mount when he pointed out things observable in the plants and creatures in nature and told us not to worry about what we’ll wear or whether we’ll have enough for tomorrow…”You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” (Matthew 6:33-34, MSG)
My great-grandfather, then my grandfather, and then my dad…they all lived that way. My dad didn’t know his grandfather, but that same description easily could have been written about him. All three of them had the same kind of character––the kind I want to have and that I want to pass on to my kids (plus the next few generations).
I’m not nearly as much of a cowboy as any of the three of them, but whatever term it is that best fits the kind of men that they were (cowboys, disciples, or otherwise), they were the only kind of cowboys I have any interest in emulating.